December 4, 2007

Down to the Wire, and Major Surgery

Well, tonight I played the Baltimore Choral Arts Society's holiday concert and I must say that out of all of the holiday performances that I have played, this one was particularly special and I am extremely grateful to be able to play with a group of such fine musicians. The Baltimore Choral Arts Society, led by Tom Hall, is one of the finest choral groups in the country, and this concert, which featured the Choral Arts Chorus, Orchestra, and the National Spiritual Ensemble was broadcast live from the Basilica of the Assumption in downtown Baltimore.

Today I put my violin in a box. It is taking a trip to Boston for the equivalent of a yearly physical and major surgery.

In 1994, while a student at Oklahoma State University, I had the privilege of speaking with Victor Romanul, who said to me "If you're looking for a violin and want to buy a modern instrument, call Marilyn Wallin." Two years later, while looking for a new instrument, I found Ms. Wallin's number on an old slip of paper and called. "I'm finishing the varnish on one right now, will send it to you in two weeks," she said. After a week or two of testing I bought #81, made in 1996. This violin has been with me for many years, and it is the instrument on which I won the audition for substitute positions with the Houston Grand Opera, made my national debut with the National Repertory Orchestra, learned the Elgar Violin Concerto, and made my 2006 debut at the New Haven International Festival of Arts and Ideas.

The last time I sent a violin away was in 1994, and that was painful - after it came home I had a pretty good run. This, however, feels different - this violin and I survived Hurricane Katrina, and this is the first time in two years that it will be out of my hands - and my sight - for longer than two days.

For years I have wanted to make a trip to Boston to meet Ms. Wallin, and I will be going there on Monday to have the fiddle adjusted "to me". About this I am extremely excited: Ms. Wallin and I have spoken many times about having a "public meeting" and it seems that luck and overwhelming necessity are meeting. This will also be my first trip to Boston. Nevertheless, it feels very strange putting the violin in a box now - tomorrow it will meet a FedEx/Kinko's employee and start the journey without me.

As instrumentalists, we all develop attachments to our instruments. There is something about stringed instruments, however, that is deeply personal. Toby Faber speaks quite candidly about the connection between violin and violinist in the preface of Stradivari's Genius. My attachment to this violin is odd: between 1998-1999 I was not happy with it, but changed my thinking after playing for someone who said "Tape yourself and see what your violin can take before you spend a lot of money." Wise advice. In the years following that statement I have received nothing but compliments on the violin, the craftsmanship, and the sound. Yes, it takes going out into the world and getting out of your head to really see sometimes. Of course, during the past two years I have had to play lots more concerts - and no one has spoken ill of "Agent 81". In fact, the response to the instrument has been overwhelmingly positive.

All praise aside: this feels like I am sending my child to summer camp for the first time.

Oddly, the day of preparation has been incredibly lucky for me. After calling the Perrin Violin Shop in Baltimore for a box I went in - and not only did they have the right shipping box, they also carry (IN the shop) the case that I have been eyeing for the past few months. Needless to say, when I get back (somewhere between sleep and playing Bach) I will be making a purchase.

But tomorrow, I will cry a bit, and learn to let go - learn to trust those who will be caring for "Agent 81" until we meet again...

UPDATE: The Baltimore Choral Arts Society Basilica performance will be broadcast on WMAR-TV, Channel 2 (ABC) in Baltimore on December 24 at 11:35pm and December 25 at 10:00am.

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